Frederic Henry Hedge.

Discourse on Edward Everett online

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DISCOURSE






EDWARD EVERETT,



BY FREDERIC HENRY HEDGE.




DISCOURSE



EDWARD EYERETT,



DELIVERED IN THE



CHURCH OF THE FIRST PARISH, BROOKLIXE,



<)N THE TWENTY-SECOND JANUARY.



By FREDERIC HENRY HEDGE.




B S T X :

PBESS "I GEO. C. RAND & IVERY, No. S, CORNHILL.

1 8 6 5.



E '5 4-0



DISCOURSE.



DISCOURSE



" Honor to whom honor."— ROM. xiii. 7.

( )vr Commonwealth mourns in these days the loss
of its brightest ornament ; the nation, of one of its
ablest statesmen, its wisest counsellors, its truest and
mosl devoted servants. The death of Mr. Everett,
of which last Sunday brought us the tidings as we
came to this place of our devotions, is felt to be a
national calamity: it shares, for the moment, the na-
tional intercut with the great events of the war.

The man who for half a century, with brief excep-
tional intervals, had been in the public service, belongs
to the public; his life and character and name are
public property; and. when he departs out of our
sight, they remain a public interest and concern ; a
study for the Church as well as the world ; inviting
discussion from the pulpit, as well as the rostrumand
the press.

Ii is not my purpose to present yon with a sketch
of this rich and illustrious life. 1 shall not attempt
to enumerate the many and distinguished services
of our fellow-citizen, nor will I undertake the analy-
sisofhis intellectual and moral character, but confine



6

myself to one or two points of special interest, or t<>
such as seem to me to possess a moral significance.

The lirst thing which suggests itself, in our recol-
lection of Mr. Everett, is the admirable genius of the
man as displayed in public speech. In this particu-
lar, he lias had no superior in this country, — per-
haps no equal, considering the scope of his rhetorical
vocation, the wide variety and great dissimilarity of
the topics, interests, occasions, assemblies, platforms,
which claimed his advocacy or exercised his powers.
Others of our national orators may have excelled him
in one or another particular, — some in popular ha-
rangue, some in forensic debate. Mr. Clay's impulsive
vehemence would tell with more thrilling effect on
the passions of a miscellaneous auditory ; Mr. Web-
ster's ponderous strength would strike a more amaz-
ing blow in the senate or the court. But not to
speak of learning and high intellectual culture, in
which he confessedly excelled not only these, but all
American orators, neither Webster nor Clay possessed
the breadth and versatility and mental resources of
Mr. Everett. Neither they, nor any other speaker
within my knowledge, could vie with him in easy as-
cent, in ready association of ideas, in prompt sugges-
tion and fertile invention, in facility of transition, in
exuberant fancy, in rich and graceful ornamentation,
and that astonishing memory, that uniform command
of his powers, which made him equal to every occa-



sion, suit to interest every assembly, and equally in-
teresting from beginning to end of his discourse.
His pinion never drooped, his hearers never wearied.
( Mher orators might excel him in particular instances ;
but no speaker to whom I have ever listened, without
trick or bait, addressing the reason only, speaking in
a "-rave wav on grave subjects, could so command and
hold the attention of a crowded assembly for consecu-
tive hours.

But those who have known the great orator only
iii bis later efforts can hardly appreciate the fascina-
tion which he exercised on youthful hearers in his
own youth. A measure of scholarly learning un-
common in this country at that time; a poetic fancy;
extraordinary beauty of person; the rich tones of a
wonderfully cadenced voice; graceful hearing: a dig-
nity beyond his years; a certain line and mysterious
reserve, which curbed, without impairing, the fervor of
his discourse, — all this gave to his appearance and
performance an ideal something, which seemed to
denote a superior being, distinguishing him from all
other speakers, nol only in degree, hut in kind. —
something which brought to mind the Greek divini-
ties of classic renown. Mv recollection does not em-
brace the period of his ministry as a pulpit orator.
Bui those who remember him in that capacity will
tell you, that, young as he was, — a youth of twenty,
— no preacher in this community was heard with



greater admiration and delight. I recall him only as
a secular orator. My first experience of his marvel-
lous power in that line was the famous oration deliv-
ered hefore the University at Camhridge, in the pres-
ence of Lafayette, then visiting this country of his
early fame ; a performance which made an era in the
literary history of the college, as it did in the intel-
lectual history of many who heard it. The address
to the honored guest drew tears from the veteran's
eyes. All present were profoundly stirred. The vast
assemhly was fused together in one emotion. I sup-
pose there was never an oration, spoken on a similar
occasion and to such an audience, which affected so
powerfully the sensibilities of those who heard it.

This first great effort of his early manhood estab-
lished Mr. Everett's fame as an orator, and occasioned
his nomination and election to a seat in the National
Congress, — the beginning of his political career.
Then followed in constant succession, interrupted
only by his four-years' residence abroad, an astonish-
ing number of orations and allocutions, pronounced
on all possible occasions, civic, academic, political, his-
torical, festive, and funereal, many of Avhich are print-
ed, and fill large volumes. They are characterized by
perspicuity of statement, skilful arrangement, grace-
ful method, massiveness of composition, felicity of
illustration, purity of thought, nobility of sentiment,
simplicity of diction. They place their author among



the very first orators, not of this age and country
<inly. but of all time.

The remarkable quality in Mr. Everett's genius, thai
which underlies and causes the eminent truthfulness
of all his performances, is moderation. I call it a
quality of his genius. It was equally conspicuous in
his moral conduct: it was the quality of the man.
Moderation, in ordinary men. is often a weakness.
Many, who have it in perfection, have nothing else ;
they are all moderation : lint, unfortunately, there is
nothing to moderate, no precipitancy, no exuberant
force, no enthusiasm, no hot passion, no rushing, eager
enterprise. It is the moderation of a dull canal.
One would welcome in such characters a little ex-
citement, an occasional indiscretion, as a sign of life.
But moderation in greal men is a noble quality, and
a part of their greatness, like the moderation of
tic earth's centrifugal motion liv the countervailing
centripetal, [ndeed, there is no real, effective, com-
manding greatness without this quality, hut onlv
flashes anil spurts, — wild sallies of a lawless force,
which may dazzle for the moment, but spends itself
without profit, leaves no permanent trace, ami dies
of its own fury. This precisely distinguishes genius
from the lesser lights that counterfoil it, thai it knows
how to discipline and govern itself, to curb its exuber-
ant fancy, to restrain its lawless outbreaks, to check
and guide its forces to riehl and healthful issues.



10

Self-control, self-possession, it is. that distinguishes the
masters in art and the masters in life from bunglers
and visionaries and fanatics. The direction to the
players, which the great poet puts into the mouth of
his hero, — " in the very torrent, tempest, and whirl-
wind of their passion, to acquire and beget a temper-
ance that may give it smoothness." — is applicable to
all the uses of art and to all the business of life.
The prevailing vice of American oratory — as, alas!
of so many other American doings — is extravagance,
exaggerated statement, hyperbolical imagery, over-
done sentiment, counterfeit enthusiasm, superfluous
verbiage, riotous invective, and all that straining alter
coarse effect commonly known as " sensation," prop-
erly so called; inasmuch as it aims to astonish, over-
whelm, and harrow, and in every way to create a
momentary, strong sensation in vulgar minds, and be-
cause it awakens a sensation of profound disgust in
thoughtful and disciplined hearers anil readers. The
public meeting, the deliberative assembly, the floor
of Congress, the platform, the stump, in some cases
the pulpit even, resound with this kind of rhetoric;
the newspapers and popular magazines glister and
froth with it. Calm, rational discourse, in which the
manner is subordinate to the matter, or rather in
which the weight and value of the matter tones and
tempers the manner: discourse which derives its
beauty and force from within, and not from any trick



11

of garnish or veneer; discourse that aims simply to
instruct by reason and facts, or to edify by the justice
and nobility of its sentiment, — although not wanting
in the ordinary course of professional efforts, is sel-
dom heard from American lips that are wont to
address large popular assemblies on secular themes.
The lips of Mr. Everett uttered no other. His speech
is wise and temperate and calm; or. rising with his
theme, excited only when the matter and occasion
justify more glowing terms and a higher strain. He
never deals in superlatives, lint seems unconsciously
to have followed the prescription of a celebrated
author, who says that "the most universal rule for
the writer, as well as the artist, is. that his expression
he always beneath the thing which he represents."
Not often does he condescend to rhetorical tricks to
heighten the flavor and enhance the effect of his dis-
course; and never, never, does he indulge in railing
and bitter invective, or seek a momentary, cheap tri-
umph by heaping obloquy on his opponents. His
speeches are free from extravagance, live from vague
declamation, from tawdry ornament, from puling sen-
timentality ; above all. free from virulence and bitter-
ness. They are solid and clean ; and in and through
these qualities they will live when the works and the

very n mass of a hundred contemporary popular speak-
ers are forgotten.

The self-possession which distinguished him as



o



12

orator, and which formed so striking a trait of Mr.
Everett's genius, was in his character as well as his
speech : it, was thoroughly inwrought in the man.
An imperturbable dignity enveloped him like an
atmosphere, accompanying all his ways. Even as
a child, he is said to have been distinguished not less
by the dignity of his manners than by his shining
and precocious gifts. There was nothing loose, un-
"irt, or dishevelled, in his bearing. Mr. Carlvle, in a
letter to a friend, describes him happily as a " com-
pact man." Though given to humor, and apt to in-
dulge in playful talk, and though capable of moral
indignation like every earnest and right-minded
man, he was never unduly excited in the way of
anger or of mirth ; never carried bevond himself.
No vehement tones, no spasms, no boisterous demon-
stration. His habitual self-command extended to
his very looks. His face was no book wherein one
might read the workings of his mind. Such control,
perhaps 1 should say. such immobility of feature,
one shall rarely see in so sensitive a man. When
not engaged in public discourse, his countenance
seemed to lack animation, giving no response by
light or shade, by Hashing eye or quivering lip, by
heightened or vanishing color, to the passing scene
or the words that fell on his ear. No change of
feature betrayed his thought, or revealed emotion, if
any there were to reveal. Those slow-moving eves.



13

with their burdened lids, — you watched them in vain
in the public assembly for any expression of satis-
faction or dissent. Did they see what passed '.' Did
the soul behind them partake in what passed'.' They
gave no sign.

It follows almost of course, from this predominant
trait, that Mr. Everett was not a popular man. A
reserve so impenetrable, dignity so severe, would
necessarily isolate him. repelling familiarity. What-
ever he may have been in the privacy of the family-
circle, he was not one with whom a stranger slid
into easy relations, — not one to whom a companion
would pour himself forth, or who would pour him-
self forth to him. "His soul was like a star, and
dwelt apart." Though uniformly affable, and inno-
cent of arrogance or pride, there seemed to he a
near and impassable harrier to intimate communion.
Friends, of such as honored and loved him. he had
many: friends, in the sense of easy confidential fel-
low-hip. he had \\-\v. lie was not popular; per-
haps it was a weakness that he was not. — a too icy
reserve, a too fastidious shrinking from nearer con-
tact with hi- kind. But, on the other hand, it is the

weaknesses of men, nay, — a certain amount of merit
beins eiven, — it is their imperfections, their very
follies, thai make them popular, rather than their
virtues. It is these that place them on a level with
their race, compensating thus the superior ability



14

which had seemed to divide them from the rest of
mankind. Men love to feel that the great man has
this at least in common with them. The public
jester is popular; the jovial, careless liver is popu-
lar ; the censor, whether by open reproof or the
silent rebuke of an austere life, is not. Clay was
popular, Sheridan was popular, Charles II. was
popular, Mirabeau was popular ; Milton, Burke,
Aristides, Washington, were not. Mr. Everett shared
none of those pursuits, was addicted to none of
those habits or amusements, which bring men into
closer fellowship and facilitate confidential com-
munion. He was not a boon-companion, not a lover
of games; he took no pleasure in the killing of
birds or fishes ; his habits were studious and recluse.
He was not popular : by so much the more signifi-
cant is the deep sensation caused by his death; so
much the more valuable, as testimony to the real
worth of the man, is the universal, spontaneous,
heartfelt demonstration of respect to his memory, —
a demonstration prompted by no superficial liking,
but wrung from the grateful heart, and enforced by
the deepest moral judgment of the people whom lie
served with the strength of his manhood and the
last ripe fruits of his age, with his life and with his
death, — a tribute such as is rarely accorded to any
individual in any age; more unqualified and sincere,
it seems to me. than any American has received



1ft

since Washington. "Call no man happy," said the
wise Athenian. " until his death." The death is often
the interpreter and key to the lite. What a life
must that have been of which such a death is the
exponent ! A rich and varied, eventful, laborious,
honorable life! That brief compendium of the pub-
lic history of its graduates, the Catalogue of Har-
vard College, appends to the name of Everett a
longer, fuller tale of offices and honors than to any
other, in a record which embraces more than two
hundred years in its annals. All the honors which
this country has in its gift, beside academic and
literary honors bestowed abroad, have been con-
ferred upon him, — all hut that one which should
be the highest, hut from which, as we know, in our
div. their very worth has excluded the worthies!
men.

In his public career, as a statesman and poli-
tician, Mr. Everett has been singularly self-consisteni ;
and though that, in itself, is not the jewel which the
current proverb would make it. it becomes so when
conscientious action is the stuff it adonis. Thor-
oughly and consistently patriotic I believe him to
have been, as he interpreted the duty and demand
f patriotism in the cases in which he was called to
act. Bis interpretation mighl differ from yours and
mine; but, such as it was. he acted upon it with un-
swerving fidelity. A.bove cabal and intrigue, lie



o



16

preferred before private or merely party interest
what he conceived to be public good. He sometimes
erred, as it seemed to me then, as it seems to me
now. He erred through excessive caution. He pur-
sued that misjudged policy of concession to the
insolent claims of the South, which has been the
source of all our woe; when resolute resistance, if it
could not avert secession, would have crushed it in
the bud. His motive, I believe, was as pure in this,
it was the same in this, as that which dictated his
patriotic efforts in these latter years. It was love of
the Union, which he believed might be saved by con-
conciliation, not perceiving that no conciliation would
avail which left to the North a relic of freedom.

He was not an antislavery man. 1 regret to have
it to say that he was not ; that he placed the letter
of the Constitution above the idea and the purpose
which lie at the basis of that Union, whose instru-
ment the Constitution is. — above the natural rights
of man ; that, while his heart was penetrated
with the purest spirit of humanity, the theory of
humanity in its application to this subject was
foreign to his mind. Yet it is my sincere belief, that.
if his lot had been cast at the South, he would have
I) sen a kinder master, an 1 more likely to have given
his slaves their freedom, than some abolitionists
whom 1 have known. Though not an antislavery
man. anil though pursuing what 1 conceive to have



17



been ;i mistaken policy towards the South, he was
not so blind or so indifferenl to the encroachments of
the slave-power, nor so regardless of the rights of
the North, as to yield without resistance the repeal
of the Missouri Compromise, lie entered his strong
protest againsl that nefarious measure, — the ruthless
violation of a solemn covenant between the two sec-
tions, designed to secure their mutual rights. This,
too. 1 honor in him, that alter the fatal rupture which
divided the land, when the wish to approve himself
personally in the eyes of the South could no longer
be imputed to him as a motive, and while throwing
himself with all his talent and all his influence on
the side of the North, he did not. for the sake of
popularity with the loyal States, pretend to be in
theory more the enemy of slavery than he had been ;
he did not pretend to any sudden conversion; lie did
not pretend to have held or to hold any different
theory on the subject ; although, as a measure of
policy, he favored emancipation.

lli~ whole action is to be interpreted from the
point of view of dutiful regard to the common weal.
— of conscientious and devoted patriotism. In this
he was thoroughly, beautifully, heroically self-con-
sistent. It is my deliberate conviction that this
country had never a more faithful and devoted lover,
never a more patriotic citizen, as certainly it has
had few abler. In the service of the Union, with a



18

view to maintain and confirm the sole bond which
seemed to him still to bind in one consciousness the
distracted nation, referring all sections and factions
to a common centre of love, he undertook a labori-
ous mission in the interest of the memory of Wash-
ington. Soliciting nothing, but using the simple
income of his eloquence, traversing the country
from east to west, from north to south, "in journey-
ings often," ''in labors more abundant," "in weari-
ness and painfulness," he collected a sum amounting
nearly, I believe, to a hundred thousand dollars. — a
fact unexampled in the history of oratory. At an
age when, without the stimulus of necessity, most
men shrink from incurring literary responsibilities
involving rapid and stated production, he entered
into an engagement to furnish weekly contributions
for a year, to a popular journal, in aid of the same
cause. — the purchase, for a national possession, of
the Mount -Vernon estate.

It has been charged upon him as an inconsistency,
or even as a recreant act. that he, who in 1860 was a
candidate for the Vice-Presidency on a ticket which
represented a different policy, should in 1804 allow
himself to be an elector of the very man to whom
he was then opposed. There was no recreancy and
no inconsistency here. So long as there remained
the shadow of a hope that the Union might be pre-
served by conciliatory measures, and an administra-



19

tion representing both parties, he was willing to sacri-
fice every thing but principle and conscience to thai
much-desired end. And it was to him a real sacri-
fice of personal feeling to allow himself to be u*r<\
for that purpose in that way. But when, in the
spring of L861, the die was cast ; when the fatal blow
was struck; when Secession, not content with peace-
able separation, made war upon the Union, — then at
once, without a moment's hesitation, as quickly and
as surely as the hall first aimed at Fort Sumter fol-
lowed the Hash of the gun that sent it, he made his
election, with heart and soul and mind and hand,
with counsel and exhortation, with voice and pen. to
stand by the Union, by the dear old flag of his alle-
giance, by the country of his birth and his vows.
And since standing by the country in a time of war
was identified, in his logical and conscientious mind,
with standing by the < rovernment, ^>y the Administra-
tion which represented the country, and on whom its
burdens and responsibilities were laid, he became at
once the fast friend of the Administration, determined
by all means, with all his powers, to strengthen its
bands, to plead its cause, and. so far as might he, to
lighten its beavj load. With what ability and with
what success lie has done this, with what generous,
untiring, self-sacrificing devotion, through all the
years of this war. he has followed this high ministry,



20

and borne his share of the universal burden, is known
to all the citizens of this land ; and known to all is
that beautiful episode in his labors, — his persevering
efforts in behalf of the suffering Unionists of Tennes-
see, which resulted in the contribution of the sum of
a hundred thousand dollars to that noble charity.

Thus did our civil hero, by the strong persuasion
of his eloquent lips and the valor of his pen, fight
the civil and social battle of the Union, with as much
true heroism, I dare to say, and as much self-sacrifi-
cing devotion, as any chief on the army-roll who has
led his serried ranks to victory in the held. If Web-
ster was thought, by his official labors in the Senate
of the United States, to merit the title, " Defender of
the Constitution," with equal justice has Everett, by
his unofficial, voluntary labors, merited the title, "De-
fender of the Union."

For no service which he rendered, official or unof-
ficial, as servant of the Stale or as voluntary ser-
vant of the people, did he take any bribe. He never
mulcted his constituents, nor received a dollar be-
yond the stated salary of his office. Far from receiv-
ing, it was his better and more blessed privilege to
give. A hundred thousand dollars, the fruit of his
labors with tongue and pen. he gave to promote tin-
ea use of Union through the nation's common interest
in the memory of Washington; a hundred thousand



21

more he was chiefly instrumental in procuring as a
contribution to the charities of the war.

His private life was as spotless as his public course
was patriotic and sincere. No breath of reproach
ever sullied his fair repute; and no duties, according
to the testimony of those who know best, were more
faithfully and thoughtfully discharged by him than
those of husband, father, and friend. Many were the
offices of honor and trust which he filled with the
lio-ht of his beneficent genius. An ordained minister
of the gospel at the age of twenty; professor in the
neighboring university, and afterwards its president-
a member, at different periods, of both houses of
Congress; governor of this Commonwealth; ambassa-
dor at the court of St. James ; secretary of state in
the national cabinet ; yet noblest and greatest of all.
in these latter years, as a private citizen. — his way of
life, as 1 survey it in the retrospect, comes to me as a
zodiac of luminous progress, -shining brighter and


1

Online LibraryFrederic Henry HedgeDiscourse on Edward Everett → online text (page 1 of 2)